IST-511 Day Five: School’s out for Summer

Today was the last day of class. We had some time in the morning to talk about networking and school libraries, then the poster session took place in the afternoon. I have already talked about the importance of netwroking when I discussed my interview with Jon Cawthorne, so I won’t go into any detail here. I will concentrate on the afternoon events: the poster presentation. My group chose to present the benefits and disadvantages Ebooks present for  collection development in the academic library.

This was my first poster session. In fact, because I grew up in Uruguay, where the shool systems is understandably different from what we typically see in the US, I can only remember doing anything emotely related once: science fair in 9th grade, my first year in the country. Overall, I found it to be a very effective way to give and receive tons of feedback, and a great way to find out how confident you are in your knowledge of a topic. Unlike a typical group presentation, the interactions are much more interactive, and they tend to be one-on-one. Instead of having to answer five questions from a mostly-friendly audience (it is much more difficult to really question a classmate’s work when you are doing it in front of a large group,  not to mention the fact that you know the roles will be reversed soon enough), you have to hold a a series of short conversation about your topic in a much more intimate setting. The questions are more numerous, more focused, and much more incisive. This means you find out quickly enough how much you really know about your topic. In addition, you have no idea who you might be talking to at any particular moment in time. I remember having an animated conversation with one woman who, it turns out, was Elizabeth Liddy, Dean of the iSchool. I also had the “fortune” to be on call when Scott Nicholson, our professor, stopped by (to my credit, I did recognize him right away). After three days of insisting that the point of the project was to present a controversy without taking a side, he walked up and asked me what I thought would happen with Ebooks in the next five years. This seems (now) like a logical question; at the time, after three days (and nights) of striving to remain fair and balanced, it felt like a personal batrayal, if only for a moment. I have to say these poster presentations keep you on your toes.

After my turn on “defense,” it was time for me to roam and learn about the various issues my classmates had decided to present. I have to say, having sparred with Dr. Nicholson made a significant difference in my approach to this part of the event. I thought, if he gets to ask , nasty, unepxpected, out-of-the-box questions, then why can’t I? Isn’t challenge the best path to real learning? So off I went, trying my best to find something about other posters that I felt was missing or underdeveloped, and probing in that direction. I ended up having some interesting discussions that never would have happened had I just stuck to the information presented on the posters, everyone was very gracious about my approach, and no one broke into my room later that night to exact revenge, so I strongly recommend this tack.

And that was IST-511. I think I will give myself one more day of reflection before posting final thoughts on the course as a whole, and for those of you that are just dying to find out all about Ebooks in academic libraries, I will add another entry with the contents of our group’s handout (and a picture of the poster, if I can get one before tomorrow).

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IST-511 Day Four: The perils of librarianship

Today began with a discussion of professional organizations, followed by a panel discussion on library space. This last item was of great interest to me, given that it is one of the issues that the two most important academic libraries in San Diego are focusing on at the moment. I was interested to hear the speakers’ thoughts not only on physical space, but also on the need to define a library’s virtual presence. Academic libraries are especially concerned with the non-physical aspects of space because they primarily serve a population that, because of age constraints, tends to expect information transactions to take place virtually.

In the afternoon, we discussed the ethics of the profession. The lecture touched on the many gray areas that a librarian can run into by just doing his or her job, situations where the librarian code of ethics can clash with other standards: personal, social, corporate, religious, political. I learned much about the importance of policies, As much as I dislike bureaucracy, I see the importance of having a clearly written, widely communicated set of policies, so that when one of these nebulous situations happens, a librarian has something concrete to fall back on to justify the decision made. Like many people, I tend to see bureacracy as something an organization’s staff hides behind in order to avoid difficult decisions, but after that lecture I have an increased appreciation for the value of being able to back your actions with something more substantial than “because I think it is the right thing to do.”

IST-511 Day Three: The truth about eBooks

I spent much of today working on the poster project. We have a topic: what the growth in eBook publication means for collection development in academic libraries. I’ll talk about pros and cons later on this week, so as not to give away any spoilers. After some frantic source consultation and some good teamwork, we have a draft of the handout that goes with the poster (so that people who don’t get a chance to ask any questions can take away some additional information). Tomorrow is actual poster design, and Friday is the big unveiling.

In class, we had a talk about library systems, followed by a panel on the same topic. I found the discussion informative and inspiring. Hearing about all the different fiefdoms that make up the systems world brought out my techie and organizational sides, and I spent a good portion of the morning with half a brain focused on the presentations, and the other half on several ideas about how I would go about improving the situation. Today, I ruminate. Tomorrow, who knows?

The afternoon was spent getting to know some crucial pieces of Bird Library: the book conservation/restoration operations and the special collections space. Professor Lavender gave a great talk on collections, showing us some truly impressive pieces that belong to the library (anything from pieces of an Assyrian cuneiform clay tablet from about 4,000 years ago to an art project created by an SU student about her grandparents’ experiences in Auschwitz). I especially liked the stories behind each item’s acquisition, which were not only entertaining, but provided valuable insight into the why and how of collection-building. I think one of the best aspects of this course has been the glimpses it provides into all the various aspects of Library Science. I’m still focused on academic and digital topics, but it’s always good to know what your various career choices are within a field, and it’s always good to have some insight into what other members of my future organization will be doing.

IST-511 Day Two: Copyright law and science fair flashbacks

I find nothing gets people going early in the morning like a good copyright law discussion. This is going to be dificult to beat for the title of “scariest lecture of the week.” It is one thing to vaguely know that copyright is an extremely complicated issue that is very much a hot topic these days; it is quite another to sit in a class for two hours and have the instructor point out, about once every five minutes,  the various ways in which your work, school, and leisure activities could potentially violate federal law. This is a topic that deserves much more attention than a paragraph in a daily recap; all I can say at this point is that there is a great divide between the laws that govern copyright (many of which have been passed to satisfy the needs of the entertainment industry rather than any concerns having to do with scholarship or education) and the layperson’s understanding of what is and isn’t a copyright law violation.

We also began working on our group projects; I will be posting more about this in the coming days. Our group is trying to come up with a workable topic centered on eBook adoption by libraries. The final result of this project is a poster that highlights two sides of a controversial issue for discussion; the posters are then taken to an exhibition hall where they are displayed and fellow students, professors and guests can ask follow-up questions about the material. Basically, it’s  librarian science fair.

IST-511 Day One: The basics and information retrieval

I confess I am having a little trouble with this blogging assignment; write one or two paragraphs each day about your experiences. It sounds easy enough, but these are no ordinary days. We are earning four credits in seven days, which means each day we learn about two weeks’ worth of material. How do I summarize that in a few lines? If I mention everything that happened, it’s hard to accurately convey a true representation of any one activity or lecture. If I concentrate on one experience, I leave many important things out altogether.

Today was the first day of the LIS Gateway course. This is a smaller group whose interests, in theory at least, relate a bit more closely to my own. It is also a “smaller” class: less of the 50,000 foot view, more of the dirty everyday business of being a librarian, or at least a library graduate student. We learned the basics about our course of study over the next few years; we discussed the information information life cycle; and we went over our graduation requirements and optimal course scheduling.

We also actually met some real-life librarians. To me this was the highlight of the day. I was told after listening to them speak about public libraries (today’s topic) I would want to become a public librarian myself. This did not happen. I still prefer the academic and digital sides of the profession, when I’m not thinking about what it would take to become a library school instructor. Now there’s a group that seems to be having fun. What I took away from today’s guests was not how great public libraries are (and they are great), but the joy that comes from following one’s passion. This has been a common theme so far this trip, as well as in talking to various people back home who are connected to librarianship. These are people who seem to really enjoy what they do, no matter the roadblocks and annoyances in their way. They seem energized and excited by their work, and they seem eager to share that energy and that excitement with those around them.  This was what I was looking for when I decided to pursue an MLIS degree: a career I could be passionate about. I’m starting to think I may actually have made the right choice.

Of course, tomorrow we spend the morning talking about copyright law. We’ll see how I feel after that.

Interview with Jon Cawthorne, Dean of the San Diego State University Library

I had the opportunity to talk to Jon Cawthorne, Dean of the San Diego State University Library. Jon has been at his current post for less than a year. Perhaps because of this, the overwhelming sense one gets while speaking with Jon is of opportunity, of wanting to get out there and make things happen. He understands that academic libraries are at a crossroads, and that they need to embrace change without losing the qualities that make them special. Of course, change isn’t free, which is particularly difficult considering the economic problems currently affecting California’s educational system.

The biggest challenge facing libraries today, according to Jon, is their own culture. He told me that he concentrates his efforts into trying to move colleagues away from the comfort zone of “the way things have always been done.” When thinking about how the information space is changing at present, it makes sense that the focus for libraries should be not on abandoning their traditional mission but on designing and propagating new ways to fulfill that mission. The name of the game is still access; what is changing is the ways in which that access can be granted and the types of information to which access is needed. The key to it all is space; how to change the library space to cater to today’s university student: tech-savvy, multi-tasking, customization-loving, and overwhelmingly collaborative. The challenge is moving from a space that caters to focused, individual study to one that encourages creativity and teamwork.

Jon’s take on the best way to navigate the MLIS program underscores his belief in collaboration. He told me that classes are important, but what will really help propel me towards a successful career as a librarian are the people I will meet, as these are the most valuable resources I can harness going forward. This is a small, tight-knit community that relies more and more on resource-sharing and cooperation, and I will not get far working alone, or relying only on the resources within my own workplace.

When I asked Jon to name a few crucial skills he feels are under-represented in today’s librarian population, he mentioned technology skills, a renewed focus on re-assessing our own profession, and leadership. But most important in his opinion is a need for champions, people who are passionate about the profession and actively recruit the next wave of librarians. “When you meet others who are thinking about a career in this profession,” he says, “speak about the possibilities you see.” I’ve always thought of libraries as these almost eternal institutions, always there, always needed; but I realized in speaking with him that, as technological improvement continues to change our lives, our libraries will wage a battle for continued relevance, and that only by adapting to the changing needs of our population will they be able to win that battle and remain in their position as guardians and providers of information.

Formal Reader’s Response: Whose Space?

Social networking sites such as Facebook and Flickr are rapidly becoming the information exchange system of choice for today’s youth. In his article “Whose Space?” John Maxymuk makes use of several studies on social networking trends as he surveys the landscape and describes the problem these sites create for today’s librarians. As John describes himself as an older, “cranky” librarian who “see[s] a clear difference between private and public space” (2007, p. 97) right from the start, we should not expect a spirited defense of the MySpace-Facebook paradigm. In his opinion, these tools mostly bring out our immature, narcissistic side. Despite his negative feelings, Maxymuk understands that librarians need to better understand these tools and what they can do for and to academic libraries, because the library’s users are Facebook users, too.

Maxymuk first describes today’s students and their preference for multimedia, freely shared content, and working collaboratively. He explains that they are not very fond of copyright laws, which they see as an encumbrance on the sharing of information, and they blur the lines between creators and consumers, gravitating toward “more democratic ways to learn and stay current about their world.” (2007, p. 97).Next, the article provides a short discussion on social bookmarking, the practice of sharing one’s favorite web sites with others in one’s social circle, which is rooted in the basic hyperlink-based structure that developed into our modern world wide web. Maxymuk then introduces the concept of tags– user-created, non-hierarchical metadata — that are used to classify the bookmarks. Here he hits on a key point: while metadata created for a digital library project are likely to take advantage of controlled vocabulary, expert catalogers, and expert users, tagging on the web is mostly done as the records are being created, by amateurs who use neither controlled vocabulary nor any kind of expertise (2007 p.98).

Maxymuk goes on to say that social tagging, or “folksonomy,” presents both positives and negatives, although outside of cost effectiveness he does not name any of the pluses, referring us instead to a paper by Adam Mathes. Mathes lists lower cognitive cost needed to participate, instant feedback loops, new kinds of asymmetric communication between users through their tags, lower barriers to collaboration, a compulsion to share information, and the possibility of unanticipated uses (2004). Maxymuk concentrates on the negatives: tag ambiguity; lack of control for synonyms, capitalization, singular/plural, or even correct spelling; constraint to single words; uniqueness of each user’s tagging philosophy; and vulnerability to spammers. He argues that folksonomy is “not an effective way to find information on a topic” (2007, p. 98), although the practice is popular and becoming more so.

In order to evaluate the effectiveness of various social tagging engines, Maxymuk conducted an experiment in which he searched for the term “library” in a variety of these sites. He shares his findings, dividing them into several different categories, each of which yields progressively more focused results. First are popular favorites like Flickr and del.icio.us. The former turns up pictures of libraries as well as less germane subjects, while the latter returns lots of references to software development (code libraries). The next category is portable bookmark sites (Furl and Spurl) which do return links to the home pages of some of the better known libraries, as well as some sites that aren’t quite what he had in mind, like the Web Design and Texture libraries. Next are the academic sites, like CiteULike and Connotea, where the tags are far more academically inclined. Not surprisingly, these sites refer him to scholarly journals on subjects like libraries and documentation. Finally, he recommends LibraryThing, a site that allows users to catalog their books online using their own tagging systems or one of several widely accepted ones, like the Dewey system.

Having surveyed the landscape, Maxymuk reaches the conclusion that, although these sites “run counter to basic library principles,” (2007, p.100) they are here to stay and libraries have to make use of them if they are to make a connection with the user of tomorrow. He ends by suggesting that librarians follow Peter Meholz’s suggestion and use social bookmarking tags as “desire lines” (a concept also mentioned by Adam Mathes in his essay). By studying social tagging patterns, librarians can deduce which connections users are making on their own, and they can use those connections as a basis to refine their more formal taxonomies. This synergy, if it can be created and exploited, will allow librarians to reap the true benefits of folksonomy.

Sources:

Maxymuk, John (2007). Whose Space? The Bottom Line: Managing Library Finances, Vol. 20 (No. 2), pp. 97-100.

Mathes, Adam (2004). Folksonomies – Cooperative Classification and Communication through Shared Metadata. Retrieved July 12, 2009, from http://www.adammathes.com/academic/computer-mediated-communication/folksonomies.html